Johnson v. U.S., 96203

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST
Citation117 S.Ct. 1544,137 L.Ed.2d 718,520 U.S. 461
Decision Date12 May 1997
Docket Number96203
PartiesJoyce B. JOHNSON, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES

520 U.S. 461
117 S.Ct. 1544
137 L.Ed.2d 718

Joyce B. JOHNSON, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 96-203.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued Feb. 25, 1997.
Decided May 12, 1997.
Syllabus *

Petitioner Johnson testified before a federal grand jury, investigating, inter alia, the disposition of proceeds from her boyfriend's alleged drug trafficking, that she had obtained tens of thousands of dollars to improve her home from a box of cash given her late mother by one Talcott. Subsequently, she was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §1623, which proscribes "knowingly mak[ing] any false material declaration'' under oath before a grand jury. At her trial, it was revealed that her boyfriend had negotiated the purchase of her home and had an interest in a corporation whose checks had been used to help pay for the property, and that Talcott had died several years before the time he allegedly gave her mother the money. Johnson did not object when, in accordance with then-extant Circuit precedent, the judge instructed the jury that materiality was a question for him to decide, and that he had determined that her statements were material. Johnson was convicted of perjury, but before her appeal, this Court ruled, in United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 115 S.Ct. 2310, 132 L.Ed.2d 444, that the materiality of a false statement must be decided by a jury rather than a trial judge. On appeal, Johnson's claim that her conviction was invalid under Gaudin was reviewed by the Eleventh Circuit pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b), which allows plain errors affecting substantial rights to be noticed even though no objection has been made. Following the analysis outlined in United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508, the court assumed arguendo that the District Court's failure to submit materiality to the jury constituted "error'' that was "clear or obvious.'' However, it concluded that any such error did not affect "substantial rights'' because its independent review of the record showed that there was "overwhelming'' evidence of materiality and that no reasonable juror could conclude that Johnson's false statements about the money's source were not material to the grand jury's investigation.

Held: The trial court's action in this case was not "plain error'' of the sort which an appellate court may notice under Rule 52(b).

(a) Since §1623's text leaves no doubt that materiality is an element of perjury, Gaudin dictates that materiality in this case be decided by the jury, not the court. Johnson's failure to timely assert that right before the trial court ordinarily would result in forfeiture of the right pursuant to Rule 30. However, Rule 52(b) mitigates Rule 30 and, contrary to Johnson's argument, governs her direct appeal. The Olano test for applying Rule 52(b) requires that there be (1) error, (2) that is plain, and (3) that affects substantial rights. If these three conditions are met, an appellate court may exercise its discretion to notice a forfeited error, but only if (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Pp. ____-____.

(b) The first prong of Olano is satisfied here, as Gaudin must be applied to Johnson's case on direct review. See Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 328, 107 S.Ct. 708, 716, 93 L.Ed.2d 649. The second prong is met as well. In a case such as this-where the law at the time of trial was settled and clearly contrary to the law at the time of appeal-it is sufficient that the error be plain at the time of appellate consideration. Even assuming that the third prong is also satisfied, a court must still determine whether the forfeited error meets the fourth prong before it may exercise its discretion to correct the error. In this case the fourth question must be answered in the negative. Materiality was essentially uncontroverted at trial and has remained so on appeal. Johnson has presented no plausible argument that her false statement under oath-lying about the source of the money she used to improve her home-was somehow not material to the grand jury investigation. It would be the reversal of her conviction, not the failure to notice the error, that would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Pp. ____-____.

82 F.3d 429 (C.A.11 1996), affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, which was unanimous except insofar as SCALIA, J., did not join Parts II-B and II-C.

Wm. J. Sheppard, Jacksonville, FL, for petitioner.

Michael Dreeben, Washington, DC, for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.**

In this case the trial court itself decided the issue of materiality in a perjury prosecution, rather than submitting it to the jury as our decision in United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 115 S.Ct. 2310, 132 L.Ed.2d 444 (1995), now requires. No objection was made by the petitioner, Joyce B. Johnson, and we hold that the court's action in this case was not "plain error'' of the sort which an appellate court may notice under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b).

In the late 1980's, a federal investigation into the cocaine and marijuana trafficking of Earl James Fields revealed that he and his partner had amassed some $10 million from their illicit activities. Following the money trail, federal authorities subpoenaed petitioner Joyce B. Johnson, Fields' long-time girlfriend, to testify before a federal grand jury. Johnson, who is the mother of a child by Fields, earned about $34,000 a year at the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. She testified before the grand jury that she owned five pieces of real property, including her house. That house was purchased by Johnson in 1991 for $75,600, and in the next two years she added sufficient improvements to it that in 1993 it was appraised at $344,800. When asked the source of her home improvement funds, Johnson stated that she had put $80,000 to $120,000 into her house, all of which had come from a box of cash given her late mother by one Gerald Talcott in 1985 or 1986.

On the basis of this testimony, Johnson was indicted for perjury under 18 U.S.C. §1623. At trial, it was revealed that Fields had negotiated the original purchase of Johnson's home and that Johnson had paid for the property with eight different cashier's checks, including two from a corporation in which Fields had an interest. It was also established that Gerald Talcott had died in April 1982, several years before the time Johnson claimed he had given her mother the box full of cash.

At the close of Johnson's trial, and in accordance with then-extant Circuit precedent, see, e.g., United States v. Molinares, 700 F.2d 647, 653 (C.A.11 1983), the District Judge instructed the jury that the element of materiality was a question for the judge to decide, and that he had determined that her statements were material. App. 72. Johnson did not object to this instruction. Indeed, when the prosecution had presented evidence concerning materiality during the trial, she had then objected, on the ground that materiality was a matter for the judge, and not the jury, to decide. Id., at 61. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and Johnson was sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment, three years' supervised release, and a $30,000 fine.

After Johnson was convicted, but before her appeal to the Court of Appeals, we decided United States v. Gaudin, supra, which held that the materiality of a false statement must be submitted to the jury rather than decided by the trial judge. On her appeal, Johnson argued that the trial judge's failure to submit materiality to the jury rendered her conviction invalid under Gaudin.

Because Johnson had failed to object to the trial judge's deciding materiality, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed for plain error. Rule 52(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides:

"Plain Error. Plain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the Court.''

Following our analysis in United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993), the Court of Appeals assumed arguendo that the District Court's failure to submit materiality to the jury constituted "error'' that was "clear or obvious,'' but concluded nonetheless that any such error did not affect the "substantial rights'' of the defendant. That conclusion was based on the court's independent review of the record and determination that there was "overwhelming'' evidence of materiality and that " [n]o reasonable juror could conclude that Johnson's false statements about the source of the money . . . were not material to the grand jury's investigation.'' App. to Pet. for Cert. 9a (judgment order reported at 82 F.3d 429 (C.A.11 1996)). Due to the conflict between this decision and the Ninth Circuit's en banc decision in United States v. Keys, 95 F.3d 874 (1996), we granted certiorari. 519 U.S. ----,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2859 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Garcia, Docket No. 03-1407-CR(L).
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • June 21, 2005
    ...error in this case that is now plain. See United States v. Williams, 399 F.3d 450, 460 (2d Cir.2005); see also Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 468, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997) (holding that "it is enough that an error be `plain' at the time of appellate consideration"). F......
  • United States v. McArthur, No. 14–3335
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • September 8, 2016
    ...Court decided Rosemond after McArthur's trial, we apply the case retroactively to cases on direct review. Johnson v. United States , 520 U.S. 461, 467, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997). But because McArthur did not object in the district court to the instructions he now challenges, we......
  • U.S. v. Dedman, No. 06-6124.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 29, 2008
    ...under current law." United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 734, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993); see also Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 467, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997); United States v. Thomas, 11 F.3d 620, 630 (6th Cir.1993). The question before us then becomes ......
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 14, 2014
    ...only if (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 467, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997) (quotation marks and brackets omitted). Plain-error review, however, is “highly circumscribed.”......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2880 cases
  • U.S. v. Garcia, Docket No. 03-1407-CR(L).
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • June 21, 2005
    ...error in this case that is now plain. See United States v. Williams, 399 F.3d 450, 460 (2d Cir.2005); see also Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 468, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997) (holding that "it is enough that an error be `plain' at the time of appellate consideration......
  • United States v. McArthur, No. 14–3335
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • September 8, 2016
    ...Court decided Rosemond after McArthur's trial, we apply the case retroactively to cases on direct review. Johnson v. United States , 520 U.S. 461, 467, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997). But because McArthur did not object in the district court to the instructions he now challenges, we......
  • U.S. v. Dedman, No. 06-6124.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 29, 2008
    ...current law." United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 734, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993); see also Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 467, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997); United States v. Thomas, 11 F.3d 620, 630 (6th Cir.1993). The question before us then becomes 5......
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 14, 2014
    ...only if (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 467, 117 S.Ct. 1544, 137 L.Ed.2d 718 (1997) (quotation marks and brackets omitted). Plain-error review, however, is “highly circumscribed.”......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • PERJURY
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...infra Section II.E.3. 92. United States v. Schlesinger, 438 F. Supp. 2d 76, 106 (E.D.N.Y. 2006). 93. See, e.g., Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 465 (1997) (“[T]here is no doubt that materiality is an element of perjury under § 1623.”); United States v. Kantengwa, 781 F.3d 545, 554 (......
  • Retroactive Adjudication.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 130 Nbr. 2, November 2020
    • November 1, 2020
    ...& Ref. Co., 287 U.S. 358, 364 (1932). (53.) See, e.g., Welch v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1257, 1264 (2016); Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 467 (1997); Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 310 (1989); Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 328 (1987); Peter Bozzo, What We Talk About when......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT